Qatari Emir Calls for National Reconciliation

The emir of Qatar on Tuesday called on rival Palestinian groups to reconcile during his historic visit to the Gaza Strip.

‘‘Why are you staying divided?" Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said during a speech at Gaza’s Islamic University, where he and his wife Sheikha Mozah were presented with honorary doctorates.

"There are no peace negotiations, and there is no clear strategy of resistance and liberation. Why shouldn’t brothers sit together and reconcile?"

The emir, who is rare among Arab rulers in having met senior Israeli officials, denounced Israel’s policies and praised people in Gaza for standing up to it with "bare chests."

"The Palestinian cause … remains a bleeding wound in the Arab body as Israel continues every day to change the face of Palestinian land through its settlement activities and Judaisation in the occupied West Bank and especially in Jerusalem."

But he said infighting had undermined the Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation, adding that reconciliation was most urgent as regional upheaval marginalized interest in the Palestinian cause.

"Surely you realize that your division is the source of greater harm to your cause and the cause of all Arabs," he said. "It is time you end the chapter of differences and open a wide chapter for reconciliation."

Sheikh Hamad has previously sought to mediate between Hamas and Fatah and urged an end to the division based on the Doha and Cairo agreements, and the efforts of Fatah leader President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khalid Mashaal.

Thousands lined the streets in Gaza to welcome the Qatari emir, who was the first head of state to visit the Hamas-run enclave since 1999.

Qatar has called the visit a humanitarian gesture, to inaugurate reconstruction projects financed by the emirate. After initially earmarking $250 million for the schemes, Hamas premier Ismail Haniyeh announced the fund now stood at $400 million.

"Today we declare victory over the blockade through this historic visit," Haniyeh told the Qatari monarch in a speech at the site of a new town to be built with the emirate’s money. "Thank you emir, thank you Qatar, for this noble Arab stance … Hail to the blood of martyrs that brought us to this moment."

The Gaza Strip is all but cut off from the world, under blockade by Israel and Egypt by land and sea. Little damage has been repaired in Gaza since a devastating three-week offensive by Israeli forces in the winter of 2008-2009. The reconstruction is desperately needed.

Fatah had urged Palestinians to boycott the emir’s visit, and said it would entrench the division between the West Bank and Gaza. Fatah’s office in Gaza said it had not been invited to the meet the sheikh by Qatar or Hamas, but Gaza government spokesman Taher al-Nunu said Fatah had rejected an invitation to the welcoming ceremony.

Israel denounced the visit noting that the emir had never visited the Fatah-lead Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

"No one understands why he would fund an organization which has become notorious with committing suicide bombings and firing rockets on civilians. By hugging Hamas, the Emir of Qatar is really someone who has thrown peace under the bus," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Palmor said in answer to a question that Qatar had not cleared the visit with Israel in advance.

(Ma’an)

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